Il Divo Review
Following The Consequences of Love and The Family Friend, Paolo Sorrentino’s fascination for eccentric characters in positions of power and their abuse of it, almost inevitably turns to politics, and in Italian politics there is clearly a wealth of interesting figures to choose from. Avoiding the more obvious choice of Silvio Berlusconi – already the subject of Nanni Moretti’s Il Caimano – Il Divo brings to the screen the perhaps less internationally prominent figure of Giulio Andreotti, whose presence and influence on the scene of Italian politics as the head of the Christian Democrat party nonetheless encompasses no less than seven terms of government.
A nondescript individual, lacking charisma, fond of making epigrammatic remarks in a low dull monotone, Andreotti as depicted by Tony Servillo in Sorrentino’s film is nonetheless an astute politician, knowing who to make alliances with and knowing how to keep distance between those alliances when scandals erupt. As part of the Andreotti faction of the Christian Democrats he can count on influential figures from a wide range of sectors, like Paolo Cirino Pomicino ‘The Minister’, Franco Evangelisti ‘The Lemon’, Guiseppe Ciarrapico ‘Il Ciarra’, Vittorio Sbardella ‘The Shark’ and Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini ‘His Healthiness’ among his associates. Andreotti is a survivor. Soldering on regardlessly while others come and go, as time passes by, as scandals erupt and governments fall, as other bankers and politicians die or are assassinated, Senator Andreotti emerges unscathed from it all, and puts himself forward for election as President of the Republic. But talk of his involvement with the Mafia continues to circulate, and as important trials are about to take place, Andreotti is called to testify before a judicial committee.
I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone reading the above paragraph and wondering what possible interest there could be in making a film on Italian politics, or more relevantly, what interest anyone living outside Italy could have in watching a film about an obscure Italian statesman. Well, there’s only one reason anyone would be really interested and that is because it’s a film by Paolo Sorrentino, and it’s filmed in exactly the highly-stylised manner you would expect of the director of The Consequences of Love and The Family Friend. Great news if you’re a fan of the director’s grotesque caricatures, his overblown camera movements, exaggerated angles and surreal arrangements – an absolute nightmare for anyone with an aversion not only to his laboured visual style, but also to anything to do with screen depictions of Italian politics.
The listing of all the members of the Andreotti faction in the second paragraph as if they might mean something is not unintentional – it’s there to provides a clue as to how Sorrentino approaches his subject. Each of these characters, none of whom you will ever have heard of before, are introduced with sweeping slow-motion camera shots, eye-catching angles and freeze-frames, with bold titles leaping across the screen as special effects as if they were characters from Reservoir Dogs. The allusion is no doubt intentional, but it feels highly inappropriate. I guess it’s what passes for satire with Sorrentino, and I’ve no doubt those in the know will find it highly amusing, but for those outside, and those moreover not best disposed to the director’s style, it’s just extremely irritating and meaningless.
Caricature is however the name of the game, the film’s quirkiness relying heavily on Tony Servillo’s mannered impersonation of Andreotti, shuffling along like nothing so much as Max Schreck’s Nosferatu. This mind-numbingly tedious journey through Italian politics then consists of an endless parade of immaculately dressed, well-groomed old men in expensive suits pumping up each other’s egos, cutting each other’s throats or stabbing each other in the back when the Mafia aren’t doing it for them, while Andreotti sits enigmatically at the centre of the storm, worrying about how Tedex features in the pharmaceutical codex ...whatever that is. (That’s rhetorical, by the way – I’m not really interested). Sorrentino attempts to sex-up this seemingly endless catalogue of “important” names through his “impressive” visual mannerisms and surreal tableaux vivants that have no rhyme or reason, peppering the “plot” with snappy explosions and assassinations, all scored to Sibelius and a distracting – though occasionally welcomingly diverting – loud pop score. If the intention of II Divo is to leave you feeling nauseated at what you are viewing and provoke a deep migraine, then I guess you could say it succeeds.
Il Divo is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The DVD is in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
Regardless of the vacuity of the imagery, it’s hard to fault the quality of the image presented on the DVD. Colour tones are superb, skin tones warm, contrasting with the coldness of the lighting and dark settings elsewhere. There is a fine grain which pleasingly takes away from the otherwise clinical look of the film and the arrangements. For the most part the progressively encoded image flows smoothly with no significant issues of macroblocking, blacks remaining stable and solid and showing reasonably good shadow detail. Very rarely some slight flicker and breaking of fine lines can be detected on camera pans, but this is a minor issue that doesn’t alter the fact that this is a fine transfer. The aspect ratio, from my measurements, appears to be 2.30:1, and the transfer is of course anamorphically enhanced.
Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks are included. The soundtrack is meant to impress just as much as the visuals, with punchy explosions and a pounding pop score, and these all come across well, but most effectively evidently in the surround mix.
English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are optional.
The film is well supported with a strong selection of extra features that include a Making Of (31:07), a Special Effects Featurette (7:15), Deleted Scenes (11:54), Interview with Paolo Sorrentino 1 (12:11), Interview with Paolo Sorrentino 2 (16:51) and the film’s Trailer (1:22). A quick scan through them reveals that there is some repetition of information, but they will all certainly be of interest to anyone who enjoys the film, particularly the interviews with the director where he talks about making a film about an important living public figure and the difficulty this presents in terms of getting investment. Sorrentino speculates on the reasons for the failure of the Italian media to engage with the themes raised by the film, but isn't really surprised at the tactful silence from critics and politicians.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I volunteered to review Il Divo. I’ve found Paolo Sorrentino’s previous films so mannered and irritating as to be virtually unwatchable, yet they are all highly praised by international film critics. Il Divo then at least is no exception. If you’ve enjoyed the director’s previous films, then you’ll get on well with this bold flight through the murky complexity of Italian politics that is a natural extension of his earlier work, taking it to even greater lengths. For those who find the style and content of Sorrentino’s work to be empty and meaningless, I’d suggest you don’t make the same mistake I made and avoid Il Divo altogether. If you haven’t seen a Sorrentino film before, this probably isn’t the best place to start. Il Divo however is given a superb transfer by Artificial Eye and is supported with a fine selection of extra features.